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1400 jobs in limbo as mine fire burns

A fire at the Anglo American Grosvenor mine in Central Queensland has shut down production. Picture: Supplied
A fire at the Anglo American Grosvenor mine in Central Queensland has shut down production. Picture: Supplied

Some 1400 jobs are in limbo after a “gas ignition” event shut down production at a major Queensland coalmine on Saturday, with a fire at the mine still burning days later.

The combustion hit Anglo American’s massive underground Grosvenor mine on Saturday morning, prompting an immediate evacuation and exclusion zone around the site, which sits just outside the Central Queensland mining hub of Moranbah.

No workers were injured when the methane gas ignited, but operations have been suspended.

In a statement, the company said it was unlikely the mine would be reopened for “several months”.

“The mine team is working with specialist teams from the Queensland Mines Rescue Service and the regulatory authorities to extinguish the underground fire prior to being able to assess the steps towards a safe re-entry into the mine,” Anglo said.

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“These procedures are expected to take several months as a result of the likely damage underground.”

Workers have been sent home and the company has confirmed it will pay workers until July 15.

A fire at the Anglo American Grosvenor mine in Central Queensland sent plumes of smoke over the area. Picture: Supplied
A fire at the Anglo American Grosvenor mine in Central Queensland sent plumes of smoke over the area. Picture: Supplied

“We met with representatives from the four unions where we confirmed our Grosvenor workforce, including embedded contractors, would continue to be paid until July 15,” an Anglo spokeswoman told NewsWire.

“We will update on next steps ahead of this date and are working collaboratively with unions around short to medium-term ongoing employment options for our Grosvenor workforce.

“We will engage with Grosvenor employees once we have a better understanding of the situation.”

MEU Queensland president Mitch Hughes told NewsWire that workers were “shocked and traumatised” by the event.

“We are working directly with members and with the company to ensure workers receive counselling and other health support they require at this time,” he said.

Anglo American chief executive Duncan Wanblad speaks at the World Mining Congress in Brisbane. Mr Wanblad plans to sell off the company’s coking coal assets in Central Queensland. Picture Anglo American.
Anglo American chief executive Duncan Wanblad speaks at the World Mining Congress in Brisbane. Mr Wanblad plans to sell off the company’s coking coal assets in Central Queensland. Picture Anglo American.

“Workers were provided with transport home in the wake of Saturday’s event and remain on normal pay at this stage.

“Timelines and prospects for reopening the mine remain unclear for now.

“We are holding regular meetings with Anglo to discuss the evolving situation at the mine and the outlook for workers.”

Thick plumes of smoke billowed out from the mine from Saturday, and work is under way now to seal off the mine.

In an update from Tuesday evening, Anglo said it was making “positive progress” to stabilise the mine.

“The sealing efforts mean the amount of oxygen available to the underground fire has greatly reduced,” the company said.

“The Queensland Mines Rescue Service mobile extinguisher unit continues to help in this effort. As a result, smoke continues to reduce.

“QMRS monitoring equipment are being used at multiple locations in the Moranbah township to supplement DESI air quality monitoring.

The company and safety inspectors are working to seal off the mine to snuff out the fire. Picture: Supplied
The company and safety inspectors are working to seal off the mine to snuff out the fire. Picture: Supplied

“We are also actively monitoring and working closely with Isaac Regional Council to keep the community informed of any potential impact from smoke.

“All monitors are reporting readings within acceptable limits, indicating no impact on community health from smoke or airborne contaminants.

“Remote-controlled technology is a key component of our safe response, with dozers from Anglo American’s Capcoal and BMA’s Saraji mines assisting with the temporary sealing.”

Isaac Mayor Kelly Vea Vea said in a joint statement alongside MEU general vice-president Stephen Smyth and Anglo’s Australia operations chief executive Dan van der Westhuizen that all parties were working alongside Resources Safety and Health Queensland to “understand the next steps” with a view to “implementing a safe restart and continued safe operation” of the mine.

Saturday’s breakdown is the second serious safety failure to strike Grosvenor after a blast in 2020 left five workers with severe burns injuries.

It also complicates Anglo chief executive Duncan Wanblad’s plan to sell off the company’s coking coal assets in the Bowen Basin.

Mr Wanblad has pledged to break up Anglo into a slimmer operation to focus on its copper and iron ore operations.